Sprint Bandits Memorial Weekend roundup

TULSA, Okla. (June 3, 2004) -- On a Memorial Day holiday weekend that has been traditionally tied to auto racing since the infancy of the sport, the O'Reilly Sprint Bandits embarked upon a three-day tour of the nation's heartland. A pair of ...

TULSA, Okla. (June 3, 2004) -- On a Memorial Day holiday weekend that has been traditionally tied to auto racing since the infancy of the sport, the O'Reilly Sprint Bandits embarked upon a three-day tour of the nation's heartland.

A pair of impressively fast one-third mile high-banked clay ovals in Missouri and Nebraska book-ended the renowned half-mile of Iowa's Knoxville Raceway. While Knoxville holds a significant edge in tradition and prestige, Cameron, Missouri's US 36 Raceway and Butler County Speedway near Rising City, Nebraska, both proved to be venues well-suited for the best of Sprint Car racing.

A diamond in the rough, US 36 Raceway offered an added level of skills competition, as a week of heavy rains resulted in a heavy track with a few rough spots that laid in wait to gobble up the machinery of any unsuspecting driver who took a mental break along the way. The racing was still superb, with a last-lap pass for the win capping an action-packed night of racing.

Six and one-half miles down a gravel road off the main highway, Butler County Speedway would be one of the nation's premier venues in many other locations. If they keep going in the direction they are presently, they'll still bring a loyal following of fans to a relatively remote location in a short time. The O'Reilly Sprint Bandits brought the track's largest crowd of the year and the track surface held up well to a stiff north wind that had people scrambling for additional layers of clothing. Another late pass for the win was an appropriate way to cap the weekend.

The weather gods smiled on the Sprint Bandits over the weekend, as all three events were completed, when in reality all three could have easily been wiped out by the wild storms and tornadoes that thundered and danced through the region over the weekend.

A tornado was visible from US 36 Raceway on Thursday evening. After Friday night's event, more storms and tornadoes terrorized the area on Saturday. A couple of hours after Saturday's Knoxville event, some impressive storms rolled through the Sprint Car capital, waking even the heaviest of sleepers. Storms beckoned on the horizon to the south and west of Rising City on Sunday night, but a 9:20 p.m. checkered flag foiled any attempts by Mother Nature to cut the weekend short. Sprinkles began falling a half hour later as the last of the crowd made its way to paved roads and scattered to their respective abodes.

A total of 54 drivers from thirteen different states as well as Australia competed in at least one event over the course of the weekend. A hearty group of twelve drivers supported the first-year series in its biggest weekend to date, including Sooner State shoes Shane Stewart, Danny Jennings, Foster Landon, Aaron Berryhill, Wayne Johnson and Zach Chappell, Iowa's Colin Northway and Robert Bell, Show-Me-Stater Jesse Hockett, Kansas hotfoot Jason Martin, Cajun rep Jason Johnson and Texas gun Travis Rilat. Terry McCarl's No. 24 was on hand for all three nights of action as well, with Bud Johnson subbing for McCarl on Friday night when kidney stones nixed McCarl's trip to Missouri.

While Bixby, Oklahoma's Shane Stewart maintained his series point lead over a trying weekend, Forney, TX, ace Travis Rilat captured the weekend's headlines.

Rilat entered the weekend having already posted seven feature wins in the early portion of 2004, including three out of four in O'Reilly ASCS National Tour action, single wins in ASCS Sooner and Gulf South competition and weekly triumphs at Cowtown Speedway in Kennedale, TX, and Heart O' Texas Speedway in Waco. The only thing missing from the ledger was a 410-ci win.

Rilat took care of that, and in dramatic fashion to say the least.

At US 36 Raceway on Friday night, Rilat disposed of early pacesetter Danny Jennings after a lap thirteen restart for a J.D. Johnson spin. Rilat then sized up leader Stewart and made a last lap pass of the unsuspecting leader in turns one and two to post his first O'Reilly Sprint Bandits win.

After a 14th-place finish in Saturday's open-engine Knoxville run, Rilat had advanced to third Sunday night at Rising City behind Wayne Johnson and Jason Johnson by the time the red flag flew after seven rounds for Aaron Berryhill's turn two tommy-tipover.

"Those guys are both faster than me right now, but we're gonna win it anyway," Rilat commented to bystanders under the stoppage. Rilat lived up to the promise, relegating Jason to third on the restart then utilizing lapped traffic to race past Wayne for the win on the 28th round of the 30-lapper.

"Did you come here to see someone win it early or someone win it late?" Rilat queried the crowd after another dramatic win. "You wanna see someone win it late in the race, don't you?" Some showmanship along with talent has to be enjoyed.

As memorable as the weekend is sure to be for Rilat, it's safe to assume that Shane Stewart would prefer to forget about it as soon as possible. After giving up what appeared to be a sure victory on the final lap on Friday night, Stewart earned the pole position at Knoxville on Saturday night after winning both his heat and qualifying races for the second time in three O'Reilly Sprint Bandits events.

Stewart started the Knoxville main alongside Wisconsin's Mike Reinke, who made impressive charges from tenth to fifth in his heat race and eighth to second in his qualifying race to earn front row outside honors. Stewart slid to the high side in turns one and two on the opening round, with Reinke battling back on the low side. As Stewart pitched his car sideways entering turn three, the pair tangled, setting off a wild fracas atop the famed Knoxville clay. Stewart tumbled mightily through turn three, rendering his mount suitable for perching atop the infamous Brown Bus. Meanwhile, Jesse Hockett and Tim St. Arnold tangled and flipped as well as the field checked up, with Hockett's wild series of flips requiring a trip to the hospital for a quick check-over. While Hockett's last recollection was of winning one of the twin B Mains, he was none the worse for the wear.

Suffering only a gash in his leg from an errant wing mount in Saturday's melee, Stewart was fast again at Butler County Speedway on Sunday night, impressively winning his heat from the pole position. Any feature victory hopes were quickly dimmed however, when Stewart casually drove past the scales, followed by apparent second place finisher Colin Northway, with both earning disqualifications.

After a second place finish to Rilat in his qualifying race, Stewart eased the pain somewhat by charging from deep in the field to finish fifth. Along the way, Stewart and McCarl engaged in several laps of intense slide jobs before Stewart claimed the position for good.

While Rilat garnered the lion's share of the weekend's headlines, McCarl captured a portion as well. After being hospitalized for kidney stones, McCarl's attempt to make the US 36 show was waved off soon after hitting the pavement when the pain became too great. Bud Johnson, nephew of Wayne, jumped into the newly built car for start money. Bud made his second 410-start two nights later at Rising City, piloting a second Fatt-Fro entry.

McCarl returned to the cockpit on Saturday night and toughed out the pain, chasing down early leader Wayne Johnson to collect his 38th career Knoxville triumph, pulling into victory lane to the cheers and jeers of the divided crowd. McCarl rounded out the weekend with a sixth place finish at Butler County Speedway.

After a promising start to the weekend, things went downhill for Hockett, the young gun from Warsaw, MO. Eagerly anticipating the weekend opener at US 36 Raceway, where he had scored a number of wins in weekly action over the past couple of years, Hockett turned in perhaps his best outing of the year by racing from eighth in the feature to a podium finish in third.

After besting fellow young shoe Billy Alley to win Saturday night's second B Main at Knoxville, Hockett's machine was mangled after the opening lap flip. The team broke out the second car, only to lose the powerplant early in heat race action, bringing an early end to the weekend.

Norman, Oklahoma's Danny Jennings passed up ASCS Sooner Region competition for the first time since the inception of the series in 2001 in favor of three nights of 410-ci Sprint Bandits action. The decision proved worthwhile, with Jennings leading the way in the early going at US 36 before settling for fourth, then posting another fourth place finish Sunday night at Rising City. With the strong weekend, Jennings has climbed to third in series points.

Foster Landon of Collinsville, OK, continues to impress in the 410 ranks. Landon collected a pair of seventh place finishes at Cameron and Rising City, running his total of top-ten Sprint Bandits runs to four in six events and climbing into a tie for fourth in points with Zach Chappell.

The entire weekend was a pain in the rear, so to speak, for Talala, OK, driver Chappell. He held down sixth position Friday night until exiting under the red flag with rear end woes. The same problems sidelined him from Saturday night's heat race, before he battled through one of the B Mains to make the feature. Sunday night, Chappell led the opening two rounds before bicycling and cutting a tire. He would later exit as rear-end gremlins popped up again.

Jason Johnson made his Sprint Bandits debut aboard the Full Throttle Motorsports No. 50d. After triggering a three-car tangle in the US 36 feature as the field scrambled to avoid him, Johnson netted a sixth place finish Friday night. Johnson charged from 17th to eighth at Knoxville, then claimed the show position Sunday night after being among the top contenders all evening.

After a pair of Cameron flips, Wayne Johnson led the opening nine rounds at Knoxville before surrendering the lead to McCarl. Johnson crossed the stripe third at Knoxville, then after leading for 25 laps at Rising City, watched Rilat dash past him into the lead with three to go before finishing second.

Aaron Berryhill's luck continues to be questionable at best. After starting 11th at Cameron, Berryhill battled among the lead crowd before rounding the top five. After a ninth place run at Knoxville, Berryhill took an easy turn two ride while running sixth at Rising City. Berryhill returned to finish twelfth.

Liberal, KS, shoe Jason Martin surrendered his ASCS Sooner Region point lead to take in the weekend triple. Martin scored his first Sprint Bandits top-ten with an eighth place run at Cameron after an impressive save from some turn-two bicycling action in the feature, then made the feature through heat and qualifying race action in his Knoxville debut. After engine woes in Sunday's heat action, Martin charged from the tail to claim eleventh.

After earning the third starting slot in Friday's feature, Colin Northway climbed the frontstretch wall early and soon exited with minor damage. Northway finished eleventh at Knoxville, then after his heat race disqualification, charged from 18th to eighth at Rising City.

Robert Bell of Colfax, IA, made his Sprint Bandits debut at Cameron and kept his nose clean throughout to finish eleventh, collecting a career-best $800 check at the end of the night, enough to keep a wide smile on the racer's face all weekend.

J.D. Johnson, with several years of 360-ci competition under his belt in both ASCS and NCRA competition, made his 410 debut at Cameron Friday night. He exited the main after looping his machine in turn one and two a couple of times.

Eagle Raceway regular Mike Boston dropped in a 410 for the first time at Rising City and was impressive all night. Boston battled with Jennings, Landon, Stewart and McCarl for position throughout the feature before settling for ninth.

Veteran racer J.R. Topper of St. Joseph, MO, raced from 20th to ninth at Cameron then finished 16th at Rising City.

Jay Landolt of Wood River, IL, a regular competitor at Jacksonville (IL) Speedway, overcame early brake line problems and had a surprise in mind for his rivals as he advanced through the field in the late stages at Cameron. He had just overtaken Berryhill for fifth when he bicycled and dumped his mount in turn four two-thirds of the way through the feature. Landolt was one of several drivers disqualified for not being in staging on time for the first qualifying race at Knoxville and called it a night.

Landolt wasn't the only Cameron flip victim. After the three heat races were completed in less than ten minutes, the red flag flew three times in qualifying race action. Randy Anderson was the first victim when he bicycled well into the air then flipped in turn two, clipping the wings of Jason Johnson who drove under his airborne mount.

He would return to be collected in the wild turn two feature tango that saw Wayne Johnson's machine planted in turn two. Jerrod Hull, collected in the same incident, headed for his Sikeston, MO, home with suspected engine problems. Anderson continued after that incident but later exited when his brakes locked up. Anderson scored a tenth place finish at Knoxville.

Wayne Johnson's first flip of the night came in the next qualifier, when the tacky surface bit his machine. On the restart, Sean Walden tagged the turn one rail in spectacular fashion. While his crew worked feverishly to allow Walden to take the green flag, the team was forced to miss the rest of the weekend with no surplus of spare parts available.

Kim Kennedy of Cosby, MO, a former Rookie of the Year with NCRA, posted a tenth place finish at Cameron.

Along with McCarl, Bell and Northway, Knoxville regulars Skip Jackson, Ryan Anderson and Larry Ball, Jr., made the tow to Rising City on Sunday. After a strong fifth place run at Knoxville on Saturday, Ball earned the third starting slot on Sunday night only to be sent to the rear after requiring a second push. He would make an early exit.

Aussie Jackson, who crossed the stripe sixth at Knoxville, notched his second top-ten finish in as many nights by taking the checkered flag in tenth at Rising City.

Anderson's turn two 360-degree spin during the feature hurt his cause, as he was ultimately credited with a 15th place finish.

A pair of 360-ci powered machines took part Sunday night, with defending Eagle Raceway champion Jeff Lowery topping Colorado's Bryan Gossel for the $500 bonus.

With the weekend of O'Reilly Sprint Bandits action in the books, Stewart escaped the weekend with a 26-point advantage over Rilat. Jennings is just two more points back in third, with Landon and Chappell tied for fourth. Sixth through ninth are Berryhill, Martin, W. Johnson and Northway, with Hull and McCarl tied for tenth.

Additional information regarding the O'Reilly Sprint Bandits is available at www.sprintbandits.com.

-lw-

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About this article
Series Sprint
Drivers Aaron Berryhill , Shane Stewart , Travis Rilat , Jesse Hockett , Danny Jennings , Wayne Johnson , Jason Johnson